Italian populist parties agree to basics of coalition government

Italian populist parties agree to basics of coalition government

In a major victory for populism in Europe, two of Italy’s anti-establishment parties have agreed to form a government by naming a prime minister and presenting a policy program that is expected to include several far-right proposals.

The Five-Star Movement (MS5), led by the 31-year-old Luigi Di Maio, has reportedly reached an agreement with the far-right Lega Nord (Northern League, or simply the League), led by Matteo Salvini, over a number of key policy proposals.  The two parties still have to agree on their prime minister, who then has to be approved by Italian President Sergio Mattarella, but once approved, there will likely be rapid political change in the country.

Chief among the proposals being made are a flat tax rate as low as 15 percent, a universal basic income, and a pledge to renegotiate Italy’s relationship with the European Union. However, the League also has some extremely hard-line view on immigration.

During a pre-election debate, Salvini promised to introduce a program that, if enacted, would send approximately 400,000 migrants back to their country of origin. He has also previously talked about how Italy is facing a “tide of delinquents… packed with drug dealers, rapists, burglars.”

The Five-Star Movement is not as hardline as the League, due to its more anarchic political set-up, but has expressed similar anti-immigrant rhetoric. In January, Di Maio said that Italy should work on trying to improve its own birthrate rather than “resigning” itself to immigration.

Anti-immigration sentiment has flourished in Italy in recent years, owing to the influx of migrants across the Mediterranean. The country has absorbed more than 600,000 migrants in the last four years. While the Italian coastguard and navy have paid a key role in rescuing migrants, reception at home has been far less welcoming. In February, a far-right extremist who’d previously tried to run for election with the League shot and wounded six African immigrants in the city of Macerata, central Italy. In March, the blue-collar town of Sesto San Giovanni celebrated it’s 200th expulsion of a migrant with a pistachio layer cake.

The other major losers with the new populist Italian government is the EU. While the electoral success of Emmanuel Macron in France and re-election of Angela Merkel in Germany offered hope to the defenders of the European status quo, the success of MS5 and the League, coupled with the growth of strongmen leaders in Eastern Europe like Viktor Orban in Hungary and the Law and Justice Party in Poland, show how frail the project remains. This is especially true as both MS5 and the League have pledged to renegotiate European treaties.

“If the rules, parameters and constraints imposed by Europe do not change, Italy suffocates,” Salvini said. “This seems to be a shared commitment.”

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